Saturday, October 23

The quality of government in the autonomous regions: growing divergence

The Spanish autonomous communities have played a fundamental role in coping with the SARS-CoV-19 pandemic. Although part of the applied regulations have come from the central government, the regional administrations have assumed a crucial responsibility both in the administration of health services, in the management of tracking services and public health, in regulatory aspects such as opening hours and curfews, and in organizing mass vaccination. This role has been played by these administrations under a high level of pressure due to how much the pandemic puts at stake in terms of health, economic activity, and the functioning of public services in general. The decisions taken by the Autonomous Communities have also revealed different strategies and preferences when it comes to tackling the challenges: Some communities have been more cautious than others in relation to the dilemma between controlling the epidemic and maintaining economic activity. Some have had more effective tracking services than others, and different alternatives have also been chosen in the implementation of the vaccination strategy, such as between the commitment to health centers as an axis or to large infrastructures (public or private) to administration of vaccines.

The responsibility assumed by the CCAA has fueled the debate as to whether regional administrations work better in some territories than in others. Answering this question is a huge challenge. On the one hand, looking at the functioning of the administrations themselves, it is very complex to find indicators that are fully comparable between them and that are capable of summarizing the general performance of the administration. On the other hand, looking at the results is tempting – economic growth, educational results, life expectancy – but these measurements respond to a multitude of factors, many of which are beyond the reach of administrations.

That is why the project has special value European Quality of Government from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.[1] This project has gathered information on the quality of government in the regions of the 27 countries of the European Union. It has already done so in 4 waves, carried out in 2010, 2013, 2017, and 2020. The purpose of this project is to measure three key dimensions: (1) the degree of impartiality of the administrations, (2) their degree of corruption, and (3) the quality of services. Each of these indicators is measured in relation to three key areas: health, education, and citizen security. These indicators are obtained by administering a survey to the general population of these regions in which individual perceptions regarding the functioning of public administrations in the respective regions are asked. Based on citizen perceptions regarding these three indicators, a general index of government quality is generated in each territory, the EQI Index. A few weeks ago, our colleague Victor Lapuente presented the first results of the survey carried out in 2020.[2] In this post I am going to focus on aspects that highlight the divergence in the perception of the functioning of public administrations between people from some Autonomous Communities and others.

The Figure 1 provides the value of the global governance quality index (EQI) for each of the Spanish autonomous communities according to the 2020 data. On the horizontal axis we have the CCAA and the vertical axis the percentile that each community occupies among the set of regions of the European Union. For example, a percentile of 60 indicates that the Autonomous Community has a better quality of government index than 60% of European regions. Thus, the higher the percentile, the better the relative performance of the administrations of a region within the European context. As we can see, in Spain, there are regions where the government’s quality index is low. In Catalonia and Andalusia, for example, perceptions are very negative and place these regions below the 30th percentile. This means that more than two-thirds of European regions have a higher quality of government index than that of Catalonia or the of Andalusia. On the contrary, the Basque Country receives a fairly positive level of the EQI index. Its percentile exceeds 75, which means that the Basque Country is among the 25% of the European regions with the best performance.

Thus, there is a great variation in the valuation of the administrations between some Autonomous Communities and others. The citizens of Catalonia value public administrations so badly that this places their index among the 25% of the worst regions in Europe. The Basque Country or La Rioja, at the other extreme, are regions where citizens are much more satisfied, and thus the index places them among the third of the EU regions with the best ratings. This high variation within the same country is striking, and is hardly comparable in other European countries.

This is how the Graph 2, which examines how much the quality of government index varies between regions and others for each of the countries in the study.[3] This is a box plot, which shows, on the one hand, the median value of the quality of government in each country – the horizontal line within from the “box” – and how far the regions are from that central value – the upper and lower limits of the box and the vertical lines that follow them, the so-called “whiskers” -. The more flattened the box and the shorter the whiskers, that means that the regions of a country are more similar to each other as a government. The Spanish case is marked in red.

As can be seen, in some countries such as Portugal (“POR” in the graph), the variation in the quality index is very small. On the other hand, in countries like Italy and Spain, it is very pronounced. The fact that there is such a great divergence in perceptions of the quality of the administrations of the same country raises urgent and relevant questions. One of them is if these divergences have always been so high and if the CCAA with a better performance tend to be the same in the successive studies.

The last graph, graph 3, helps answer both questions. We can see the quality of government index for each of the Autonomous Communities in the four editions of the study by the University of Gothenburg. It can be seen that the divergence between communities has increased over time: it was considerably smaller in 2010 than in 2020. The minimum scores then are now even lower and, for their part, the maximum scores then are now even higher .

The second key point is that the CCAA that scored the best in 2010 are also so in 2020. The Basque Country had the best index in 2010 and continues to have it today, while Catalonia was the red lantern of distribution then and still is. Moreover, the growing divergence has meant that the distance in valuation of the administrations between both regions has increased considerably. To analyze this persistent – and growing – divergence, the Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg is preparing a qualitative study.

[1] Updated data and full documentation for this project can be downloaded here:


[3] Those countries with a single region, such as Malta, have been removed from the chart because, by definition, there is no inter-regional variation.

[4] Charron, Nicolas, Victor Lapuente and Monica Bauhr. 2021. “Sub-national Quality of Government in EU Member States.” Quality of Government Institute Working Paper Series

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